The good old days, do you remember? Chase Utley would come up after Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino and put up a fantastic at bat no matter what the score said. Since those days, there has been a gaping hole in the middle of the infield. That whole is getting firmly plugged by the rather skinny 26 year old Venezuelan, Cesar Hernandez.
This is Cesar’s fifth season on the Phillies roster, yet only his third year getting consistent playing time and that experience he has gotten in this league has definitely shown. His average has increased from .272 in 2015, to .294 in 2016 to .333 (7th among players in the National League that qualify) in the 30 games he has played so far this season.
Hernandez is 1st in the National League in singles hit, and 2nd in the National League in total hits, with 43 in just 30 games. His fielding has also improved, committing only two errors so far, playing at his natural position, second base, rather than being moved around as he was in 2016, playing second base, shortstop and third base.
In 14 of the 30 games he has played this season, Cesar has had 2 or more hits, perfect for his new spot in this coming season, the lead-off role. Formally occupied by Jimmy Rollins, Cesar has fit this role rather well with his speed (4/5 in stealing bases), his ability to make contact, and surprising show of power (4 homers already after only 6 last year). The Phillies’ top four hitters has really what he been keeping them afloat. Cesar, followed by Daniel Nava/Aaron Altherr depending on matchup, Odubel Herrera in the three spot and power hitter Maikel Franco at cleanup has been trouble for opposing teams. The Phillies lead the league in first inning runs per game at .93, with a sizable lead over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.
Manager Pete Mackanin discussed a couple of days ago the growth that Cesar has had in his time in Philadelphia. “Cesar was a shy, young kid with not a lot of confidence. Ability, but no confidence. I’ve seen him grow over the years into a solid major-league player. It took quite a while for him to play with the confidence he’s playing with now. It was just a succession of events that got him to where he’s at now.”
The Phillies are known for having one of the best farm systems, and despite the infield prospects that the Phillies may be grooming down in Reading or Lehigh Valley, so far, Cesar has played his way to sticking around in that second base position. If he keeps hitting the way that he does, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be a keeper in this rebuild, and a contract extension should be in place. As the Phillies’ twitter page says: Keep calm, and #HailCesar.